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26th April 2011

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Some phrases just don’t go together: ham and pineapple, Conservative-Lib Dem government, Kenneth Branagh and comic books. Yet here it is, Branagh’s interpretation of Thor, the story of the mythical warrior who is cast out of his interstellar realm to Earth. It’s clear why Shakespeare enthusiast Branagh would be attracted to the project (apart from his apparent love of the source material). Its tale of two brothers fighting for their father’s attention and the throne, with one tricking the other into being banished is straight out of King Lear. And Branagh supposedly envisaged this as a mash up of Norse mythology, comic-book thrills and Henry V. Perhaps, then, I should say at this point that Thor is no Shakespeare.

The action begins in New Mexico with a group of astrophysicists, led by Jane Foster (Natalie Portman), tracking an atmospheric disturbance. To their surprise, a swirling vortex plummets from the sky and the trio drive into something, or someone. The victim is Thor (Chris Hemsworth), an unspeakably hench, goldilocked human cinderblock who lies dazed and confused. “Where has he come from?” Jane asks.

As a flashback and Anthony Hopkins indicate, he has been chucked out of Asgard, a mystical kingdom that looks like Rivendell has had an extension built. A golden castle, rainbow bridge and a cascading waterfall down to the abyss of space; it’s all very camp. Although, not as kitsch as the costumes, which look like someone has vomited a Jean Paul Gautier catalogue. King Odin (Hopkins) rocks up in golden armour, complete with jewel encrusted eye patch. Thor wears a shiny ‘plasticcy’ chainmail with accompanying velvet red cloak and he is greeted by his close warrior friends described in the film as “Xena, Jackie Chan and Robin Hood”. Plus, there’s Ray Stevenson as a Brian Blessed lookalike who was, incidentally, rumoured at one stage to be playing Odin. Now that would have been something.

It turns out that the Asgardians hold an uneasy truce with the Frost Giants, a pastier and nastier breed of Avatar’s Na’vi. Pumped up and pissed at his coronation being ruined by some of these ‘ice smurfs’, who have infiltrated the palace, and egged on by shifty-eyed brother Loki (Tom Hiddlestone), Thor recklessly confronts the Frost King with his YMCA support in toe. Needless to say this doesn’t end well. Odin punishes his progeny for his betrayal and arrogance, banishing him and his magical hammer to Earth, ne’er to return

Thankfully, the Earth sequences provide some comic relief from the lurid campery of Asgard, where Thor attempts to recover his hammer whilst becoming attuned to the peculiarities of the planet and Jane’s wiles. However, it all feels like an audition piece for Joss Whedon’s The Avengers movie, scheduled for release next year. Featuring a who’s who of Marvel heroes, most of which have by now starred in their respective films, it’s bound to be a geek orgy of comic-book references and in-jokes.

Despite some cross-fertilisation with a cameo by S.H.I.E.L.D. hijacking Jane Foster’s research and hunting down Thor’s hammer, and Jeremy Renner popping up to introduce us to the character who will become ‘Hawkeye’, there really isn’t enough here to constitute a film in its own right. Most disappointing is Hiddlestone as duplicitous sibling Loki. His oedipal side-plot of sibling rivalry and desire for his father’s throne is the film’s juiciest story. But his acting talent (so adept in Joanna Hogg’s sublimely subtle drama, Archipelago from earlier this year) is dwarfed by the thunderous special effects and dizzying action set pieces. Thor is one big and clumsy hammer swing of a movie.

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